Welcome to My Simple Changes.
My vision is to create a community where anyone living through an autoimmune disorder, like Crohn's disease, or suffering through inflammation and other ailments, can come and feel comfortable in finding the dietary and lifestyle guidance they need.
I felt lost and helpless for most of my life living with a compromised immune system that caused my Crohn's disease. Now that I've been healing, I have to pay it forward. So, you don't have to go through what I have been through, or suffer through what you are currently dealing with.
This is an unbiased platform, centered on helping those with autoimmune disorders. Yes, you and me. Based
on everything I've learned in my 33 years of experience with being sick. I’ve learned to heal my Crohn's disease through dieting and lifestyle and I continue to expand my knowledge base as I move through this journey.
These are the events that led to connecting the dots on what caused my issues and how I got to this point of creating MySimpleChanges.com. I hope you find my experiences, changes and recipes for healing inflammation and building a stronger immune system useful in making healthier choices. More importantly, I hope that you feel welcome in being a part of the MySimpleChanges.com community.
We're here to heal by living healthier: One simple change at a time.
Thanks for reading.
When it all started...
I was born in the year of Thriller, Tetris, the first Mac and Ghostbusters: 1984. I was a "piece of cake" as my dad called it... yeah sure. Just two weeks after birth I was diagnosed with a heart murmur, followed up by ear infections every six weeks and eventually having tubes put in at 2 years old. At 8 months I had a spinal tap performed on me out of fear of having spinal meningitis. I didn't thankfully. Then, at 6, I started breaking out in hives from certain foods, like canned tuna. All of which were treated with harsh medicines and antibiotics. So, during my first several years, when the body is supposed to be building all of the important bacteria for the rest of my life, it was fighting to run properly. A system was being set up to fail from the beginning, and with that, welcome to my story.
My childhood was a fortunate one, thankfully, because of my hard-working family. I grew up in a small Southwest Michigan town, into a family consisting of several generations of entrepreneurs. Most of who chose to work in some form of construction. I have two older brothers. Idiots, as I call them. They were just as you would expect two older brothers to be and the things that they would do to me. Our household was a very active one. Despite three boys, there was an age gap of six and ten years between us, which often meant several fields, gyms and games in a day. We traveled, spent a lot of time with extended family and all helped dad in some way with his businesses. (Well, I usually was just climbing on stuff and got yelled at for being in the way) My mom was, and still is, a great cook and luckily, she loved to cook for us. We also were on the go so much that we ate out and lived through easy access food often. In a way that the average American family indulges, we lived through the food and lifestyle that was available to us. Meat, potatoes, corn, soda, fast food and so on.
Through school, I was a great student that was a model for other students to be. Actually, that's a lie. I was an average student that talked a lot and fooled around more. I was easily every teachers last pick each year and still feel bad that my parents had to sit through conferences. But seriously, I ate a lot of sugar in my childhood that led to this. I still talk a lot and fool around but have at least cut out the sugar and have half learned how to listen.
By high school, I was getting sick more often and each time a little worse. Every fall I came down with some serious infection or immune system issue, like sinus infections or hives. But, with a young body and playing a sport in every season, I was able to still fight off serious diseases. That is, until my senior year of high school. During baseball season, I started noticing blood in my stool (I know, sorry. But true). I can remember a group of us asking my baseball coach what that could mean? Not knowing that it was actually a step in the process of what was developing in my body, or weakening I should say.
When it really started to reveal itself...
Next was college and Auburn University. I chose to go to Auburn because of the love our family developed from my brother's time there. He worked for the football team, in the video department, and was able to line me up with a job there as well. So, the decision was easy and I'm very grateful it worked out that way. Auburn is a beautiful place, with great people, food, family and football. I always tell people I had the best job you can have in college. It helped that we had great teams while I was there (and never lost to Alabama). That's where I started to develop my skills as a Videographer, editor and creator. We would shoot all of the practices and games, break down each play and I made highlight films for the team to watch after every win.
As a student, my freshman year was spent living exactly how college kids live... beer, fast food, little sleep and no guidance. By the end of that year my body started to wear down in other ways. I was now mentally wearing down, physically wearing down and had gained 15-20 pounds. The freshman 15, right? I then started having serious pains in my chest. After having an endoscopy procedure, I learned I had developed ulcers on my esophagus.
Over the next couple years, everything started to reveal itself. I was hospitalized of dehydration on a few occasions. My stool became water and undigested. My mind became more confused. I went to Dr.'s and therapists. They explained my diagnosis and I was treated for each ailment. Overall, I wasn't getting better. Truthfully, I never understood past each ailment as well. I didn't have the understanding to link each ailment and symptom to one another. I didn't realize my body was under serious attack. A disease had developed and had yet to be found.
During the summers I worked helping my dad with his newest adventure, gutting and restoring an old bowling alley and restaurant. Joey Armadillo's, an alias he and his buddies would use in college when ordering their kegs... yeah that's my dad. Crazy ideas, repetitive dad jokes and a giving personality. After my junior year of college, I took a summer job tending bar in a small Lake Michigan resort town. I was either living through my ailments or ignoring them. Despite it all, I was living life to the fullest with the same lifestyle, little sleep, lots of stress, poor food habits and drinking a fair amount of alcohol (mainly from the influence of my best friend Cesar). That was, until late July that year, when the next stage of illness came.
When I was diagnosed...
One night I was tending bar when I started to feel severe cramping in my abdomen. I worked through it, fought it off for a couple hours, but eventually drove myself to the ER. Up to that point it was the worst pain I had experienced in my life. The Doctor's first believed that my appendix had burst. Over the next few weeks of antibiotics, steroids and procedures to control what I now know as a "flare up", the Doctor informed us that I had what was called, Crohn's disease, an intestinal disease where ulcers form in a certain part of your colon and disrupt the digestive tract. I'll never forget what the Doctor told us that day, "Well, I now know what your condition is. You have Crohn's disease. I don't know a lot about it, but we're going to learn about this thing together." And, the next day we scheduled an appointment at a well-known hospital in Chicago, with one of the best Crohn's specialists in the country (someone who know all about it).
Now I have Crohn's disease. Ok? What does that mean? I'm 22 years old and want to still fit in and live the same life a normal 22-year-old should live. Well, after my first appointment with the new doctor we, my parents and I, felt very confident we were going to be able to control it and the doctor assured my dad that he was, "our Dr. for life". That was the last time I saw that Doctor. Because of being uninsured from my parent's policy and paying cash, I never saw anyone more than his assistant. I don't blame him or the system; it's just what it was. Looking back, it was me that should've taken it into my own hands to heal versus trying to find someone to show me the solution.
I went on his plan though. I was taking one of the common drugs for my condition and back to living. Except from now on, it was more like living through my ailments. I didn't change anything and was convinced the medicine was going to keep this "genetic based" auto-immune disorder in check. One thing that now makes the most sense from what "Dr. for life" explained to us was that this was known as "the cleanliness disease". I never grasped that until a few years ago. At the time, I thought it meant because I washed my hands too much and took too long of showers (which I was notorious for). That is part of it. But the true meaning is the bacteria in my body had been severely depleted, compromising my immune system and ultimately developing my Crohn's disease. The common practices, too many antibiotics, harsh methods to treat my ailments and poor lifestyle had finally amounted to something.
I graduated from college with a degree in Supply Chain Management (Logistics), broke up with my girlfriend and went home to work a serving job for the summer to eventually pursue my next calling, Los Angeles, and to finally take the leap into the world of being an artist. I saved, plotted and in mid-September 2008 my childhood friend and I packed our cars and took off, never looking back. Not knowing what was ahead.
We settled into a small basement apartment in Studio City, CA, worked stressful dead-end jobs, and ate boxed mac n cheese and cheap spaghetti. It was hard. Learning and navigating one of the largest cities in the world. My life was free and my habits were reckless. My mood began to be controlled by the destructive path my habits enjoyably living. My friend moved back after six months. I bounced around 'couch surfing', trying to find my place. I didn't have any money and lived the cheapest lifestyle possible to survive.
I had the intentions of being an actor, just like everyone else who moves to LA. It took me a year to finally take the next step and enroll in one of the best Meisner programs in Los Angeles. I was working as a server, going to acting school, taking improv classes, living as cheap as possible and struggling to survive. But, living life as full as any 24-year-old could. Ignoring the signs and ignoring the worsening pains in my body, until, March 2010.
When the house finally collapsed...
While playing outfield in a softball game in Burbank the ball was hit to me. I remember picking it up and throwing it to second base. Except my body went numb and the ball barely made it half way. I couldn't breathe. The "appendix bursting" pain was back and I was in the worst state of my life. I drove to the ER of one of the best hospitals in the country. Knowing little of what I was about to go through. I was treated for a severe flare up due to my Crohn's and sent home.
By this time, I was 25 years old without insurance. My only savior was that the emergency room had to treat me. I applied for programs to cover my costs, so that I could continue to get treatment, and was lined up with a very nice gastrointestinal doctor affiliated with the hospital. He put me on heavy steroids, antibiotics and a popular new medicine to treat my Crohn's disease. I was assured that there was no need to change anything in my life and that we needed to focus on suppressing the ailments and execute a plan to keep them at bay. So, I went home, with the new plan. I was now taking several pills a day, angry, withdrawn, tired, bleeding, but stable. For another two weeks.
With not having health insurance, being stubborn and feeling helpless, I stayed in bed. My stool had become full of blood and I had lost almost 35 pounds in less than a month. I was getting weaker. I could barely walk to the bathroom. I was throwing up anything I was putting in, mostly water. Sweating profusely, my vision and mind disoriented. I was sure I was dying. My parents urged me to call an ambulance or for them to call an ambulance and I wouldn't let them because I didn't know how I was going to be able to pay for it. My mom then called the one friend of mine she knew in Los Angeles, Tre, and he ran to my apartment (no, literally, he ran).
There I was, blood soiled clothes, water filled bucket, rail thin body and barely holding on. Tre and my roommate picked me up and loaded me into my car. I vaguely remember Tre driving like a mad man to get to my doctor's office. That just so happened to be attached to the hospital. He pulled to the front, sprinted inside for help and that was the last thing I remember.
The next time I was coherent, I was being laid down on a bed in my Doctor's office. I vaguely remember him saying, "Get him to the ER and I'll let them know you're coming." They put me in a wheelchair and I remember Tre practically running over everyone in his way, as he raced to get there. When I was finally called back, this time I luckily was given a compassionate and caring ER doctor. I remember telling him, "I don't feel right. Please don't let me go." He replied, "You don't look right and I promise I won't let you leave here until I know what's wrong." Now calmed by heavy pain medications, I laid on a bed in the hall of this ER for the next 12 hours. My guess is the lack of insurance was the reason. But regardless, I was there, and Tre was as well. I'll never forget him doing that for me. With my parents still being in Michigan he was all I had until they got there again and he stayed until they finally put me in a room. Everyone says they'll be there but in the end, few do and I'm grateful he did.
Finally Answers. Not great answers...
My dad flew out again. It was him and I in the hospital room when a man came in and introduced himself as the lead doctor for my case, of what would eventually become a team of doctors. He said he saw my case on the board and how I didn't have insurance. His wife had been battling breast cancer and something told him he needed to help me. I don't know what your level of spirituality is but he was the closest thing to an angel and showed up when I needed it the most.
After several days of scans, procedures and tests, the doctor came back into the room and said, "Well we know what it is, finally. The problem is, we don't know if we're going to be able to get to it." I looked at my dad at that moment and he turned solid white. I had an abscess that had grown on top of my liver and was being shielded by my vital organs. Every doctor on the team had a different opinion of how to drain it successfully, without causing anything severe. He assured us he had a doctor that wasn't a gunslinger and could do it. He was confident.
We went forward with the procedure. There wasn't much of a choice at this point. It was heavy antibiotics to hopefully attack the growing abscess, or draining it somehow, until possible surgery on the infected intestine could be done. By now, it was difficult even sitting up. I had become so weak and the pain so severe that simple movements resulted in excruciating pain from my abdomen and chest. A few days later, due to the weekend, we went on with the procedure.
The main thing I remember during that time was the fact they could not give me any more pain medication because it was imperative that I was coherent enough to follow the doctor's instructions. It's a helpless feeling laying on a table, in a cold operating room with nurses and doctors moving around you, prepping for the unknown. The doctor came in, introduced himself and told me, "we're gonna check this out. If I can't get to it, I won't. But I'm going to try everything I can to get to it."
The machines were hooked up, everyone was in place and the doctor starting moving the ultra-sound around my chest. “We can't go there because of your heart. We can't go there because of your lung. We might be able to go there. We can't go there either." The might be able to go there, was where we went and using a long needle he asked me to take a deep breath. He stuck the needle in my side, through my liver and reached the abscess. The procedure had worked and I’ll never forget that pain. I now had a tube running from the abscess attached to a "grenade" that would suction out the fluids. There's a food I can no longer eat because of the looks of it and I'll spare you. So, you can still enjoy that food. But, I’ll just say, it was gross.
It Gets Better....
So, I went home. They couldn't allow me to stay any longer at the hospital because I didn't have insurance. The plan was I would have a nurse come once a day for the next few days and the rest was up to my mom and me. I had a pick-line coming out of my left side for the antibiotics, and a tube with the grenade on the right side draining my abscess. The nurse would come, clean me up and administer one of the antibiotic treatments. Then the rest was up to us. We were now staying at an extended stay hotel with the meds in the fridge and a large box of medical supplies in the corner. My mom and I administered my hanging IV's and treated my draining abscess. Needless to say, I was forced to learn a lot during that time.
For almost two weeks, life went back to "normal". We continued to do the treatments, see my doctor and work a new plan of medicine as the abscess healed. Until just after lunch one day, I believe my dish was a chili, I had another severe "appendix bursting" flare up in my abdomen. Again, we rushed to the ER. Again, we waited. Again, we were checked in to the hospital. As if, I thought the worst was behind us.
The Worst Was Here and we had only just begun....
Now that the abscess was nearly drained and the antibiotics (in theory) had calmed my body enough we were left with what to do about my battered intestine. Remember, the bacteria got out for a reason. They made their way through my weak intestine wall and ran rampant like a San Quentin prison escape. Before, the doctors were debating on whether or not to drain the abscess, and now, it was, "do we operate and cut out the intestine or continue on heavy antibiotics and the medicine", as said by my lead doctor. The vote was split between all of the medical professionals (comforting I know). So, we ran more tests.
At this point running a CT scan, or similar, was becoming less of an option because of all that I had already been exposed to from past screenings. I don't recall what the procedure was, other than the fact that it was going to illuminate my organs to get a clearer picture. At this point, I was not only physically weak, I was extremely weak mentally. I was taken to a room where they administered the fluids before the procedures. The room was very cold, lined with hospital beds of people drinking their fluids and getting their IV's. I was for the first time, scared. All the heavy medication, nausea from steroids, severe weight loss and trauma from the last month had taken over. I was given, I believe, three or four drinks to take over periods of time. I couldn't do it. But I was told I had to. By the time I got to the end of the second one. I could no longer take another sip. I didn't feel well. But I had to. Everyone else was. When the next round came, I took a few drinks and lost everything all over myself and my bed. With a room full of people, I remember just sitting there, in my throw up, crying.
From that test the decision was made. We were going to remove the infected intestine. It was going to be an extensive procedure but with one of the best surgeons in the country at the time. A couple of days later, a night before my surgery, my infectious disease doctor wanted one last colonoscopy. At this point, drinking anything was what I feared the most. I refused. I wouldn't do it. But I had to have the test. Followed was a meltdown. I crawled up in a ball on the floor of my room, in a disillusioned state and just laid there. The nurse came back a while later and was furious that I hadn't drank any of my fluids. The doctor was even more upset and ordered an enema to be done. Yep, that's right. I was forced to smuggle and hold in their solution for at least 20 minutes. All fitting jokes aside, it was terrible.
Cutting It Out....
My mom, my dad and my oldest brother were there by my side for the biggest moment of my life thus far. I'll never be able to repay them for all they did during that time. My brother flew from DC and slept in my room with me on a little chair and through his big heart and hilarious mind he kept me entertained. Lucky just isn't the word for family like that.
Surgery day. We prepped, joked, laughed, talked optimistically but the nervous tension filled the room. For some reason though, through this whole nightmare, I knew I was going to be ok. Maybe it was the calmness from the medicine or the numbness from the constant shock, but I knew this was for the best. Or I thought it was at the time. Looking back, from what I know now, I could've healed myself but I let it go too far and this was now my only option. Keep that in mind.
So, it was time. The doctor was ready. They wheeled me in. The room was so bright and music was blasting. I don't mean Frank Sinatra, who I love. It was Nine Inch Nails, heavy metal rock music at max volume. The nurse and I made eye contact, and she said, "don't worry. I know what you're thinking. He's the best and this is his zone." If you think about it, as alarming as it was, I rather have him be in the zone with that, then out of the zone with Frank.
I lived. Well, obviously. But man, I was in a lot of pain. I thought I knew pain up until this point. I was on some of the heaviest pain medication and it still hurt like hell. I woke up, and who was there? The same smiling three.
I spent another week in the hospital recovering and a little over two weeks at my parents extended stay hotel healing. Then, eventually, flew home to Michigan to start over. During the first month after the surgery, I couldn't lay down. I don't know what exactly happens when you have a surgery like that but every time I started to lie down I could feel my organs sliding around. I don't ever want to feel that again.
I recovered in Michigan for another month and decided to come back to LA and continue what I started. Because of now having Obamacare I was moved a new hospital and had the "rising star" doctor in the Crohn's community. She was cocky, confident and honestly, just like the other "stars" I had. I trusted her and started on a new medication. Went back to living the same life but this time, "healthier". I cut out beer, gluten (well I said I did but still put myself through it) and cut down on consuming other foods as well. Not really. Just mentally convincing myself I was and telling people I was.
A couple years went by. I was slowly going down the same path, but more aware of it this time. I started a new treatment where the medicine was given through infusions. Every 4-6 weeks I would go to the hospital and share a couple hours with all sorts of people doing chemo and other similar treatments as me. I went to these alone mainly because I no longer wanted to put this on anyone or have anyone to live through my mess anymore. Deep down though, I wanted people there. Luckily, my girlfriend at the time always surprised me and showed up. We didn't make it in the end, because of her obviously (like we all like to think). But, again, someone showed up. People show up if you let them and I'm still very grateful for her making that time for me.
Enough. Is. Enough...
After my fourth treatment I developed a horrific case of shingles. I mean painful! From ankle to shoulder on my whole right side, belly button to spine, deep, heavy, pain topped off with a pleasant rash that wrapped around my side for nearly two months.
After now being on heavy steroids, antibiotics and other medicine to treat the result of the other medicine that I was on, to treat the results from Crohn's disease, it started to hit me. I am so weak I am becoming susceptible to another class of diseases, ones that don’t offer extra chances. I went back to my doctor and she said, "oh yeah, I knew you were going to get shingles". Well I must've missed that memo somewhere. Because the first time I heard shingles was a possibility was when they showed up!! She went on to say, "and you'll probably get them again. But you have to take the medicine."
That was the end. I knew if I kept on that path, it was only a matter of time. So, I set out on the journey to heal myself. I started reading every label, looking up what I didn't know, searched for answers, educated myself and worked with my wellness doctor. I removed everything from my diet, but a very few things, and through trial and error worked my way through the process.
I continued to live with this pattern and mindset every day. Almost four years later, here we are. I haven't had a flare up in over a year. My intestine doesn't throb anymore. My body doesn't constantly flush out undigested food. No more "appendix bursting" feelings. My poop is formed, to put it cleanly. My body is absorbing nutrients. My mind doesn't feel weak. My mood, my posture, my energy, my life... is back.
At the same time, I wouldn't be here without my family and the very few in my inner circle like Tre and my best friend Cesar. This disease has taken me to some very dark places and pulled me through a field of pain and confusion. Even when I wanted it all to end, they've been there. Point being, just as it is important to make the choice for yourself to make the changes, it's also important to let people be there. Be aware of what's happening. Connect the dots. Listen. Educate. Be your own advocate.
With what I know, what I've gone through and what I've learned, I have to help others. That's why I've created this. To be there for you. To expose my experience and knowledge, so that I can hopefully help you in some way or another.
Thank you for being here and welcome to the community.